The little class that could
A successful group of grads strengthen the concept of public boarding schools.
This weekend, Deon Milton will graduate from high school. A slight kid with an easy grin, Deon will attend Hiram College in Ohio next year. It was his second choice, actually, but he is psyched. He has a full scholarship, a place on the basketball team, and lots of plans.Skip to next paragraph
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Deon's dad never went to college. Neither did his great-aunt, the one who brought him up, and whom he calls Mom. His real mother - whom he also calls Mom ("Yeah, sometimes it's confusing," he confesses) - didn't finish high school.
In sum, he says, very casually, ticking off all the aunts, uncles, and grandparents on the fingers of both hands - no one in Deon's family has been to college.
"I am the first," he says, flashing his usual grin.
Nationwide, only about 45 percent of public high school graduates this month will go on to a four-year college, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The rest will attend junior colleges, work, or perhaps stay home and not do much at all.
But Deon's story is a very different one. He attends the SEED school - a highly unusual public school that requires that its city students live on campus.
Deon and his 20 classmates are about to become the school's first graduating class.
The success of these students would be noteworthy under any circumstances.
One class member is off to Boston University, another to Duke, and a third has been accepted at Princeton. Others are bound for American University, the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Georgetown, and other schools. One hundred percent of the class is going to college next year.
But in this case their success is also a big relief, says Leslie Poole, SEED's director of admissions. "These families took an enormous risk and put their faith in us - and we delivered."
SEED's Class of 2004, like the rest of the school's 300 Grade 7-12 students, is fairly typical of the public school population of southeast D.C.
Ninety-eight percent are African-American, 2 percent are Hispanic. Ninety percent come from homes below the poverty line; 88 percent come from single parent or no parent households, and 93 percent are the first generation in their families to go to college.
All students were selected by a lottery system, and most were two grade levels behind in academic performance when they began seventh grade, says John Ciccone, assistant head of the school. Typically, some 30 percent of each class has to repeat a "growth year" before moving into high school.
But these days, SEED's upper-class students are scoring higher on standardized tests than their counterparts at other public schools in DC, staying in school (the national public high school graduation rate is 63 percent, here it is almost 100 percent) and getting into colleges across the country.
They are also better behaved than the rest of the kids on the block. According to a Ford Foundation study, 5 percent of SEED students were in a physical fight last year - compared with 35.7 percent of students from other D.C. public schools; and 12.1 percent of SEED students had tried drugs - compared with 47.2 percent students elsewhere.
So, in this age filled with sorry news about failing students, the question is: What went right at SEED?
The School(s) for Educational Evolution and Development (SEED) is the brainchild of Eric Adler and Raj Vinnakota, two young management consultants who went searching for something more meaningful to do with their time. Their idea was to establish a new model for an urban charter school that would prepare children, both academically and socially, for success in college and life.